In rink’s name, a fitting honor
Ed Burns was a legendary presence behind the hockey bench at Arlington High, his run lasting a staggering 50 years.
He will now be permanently remembered at the town’s skating complex, his home ice sheet for half a century. On Dec. 28, between games of an annual holiday tournament named in Burns’ honor, a ceremony will officially unveil the Veterans Memorial Skating Rink’s new name: Ed Burns Arena.
“This is just awesome, to be remembered in this way,’’ said Burns, who will be feted at a pretournament reception that afternoon at the Arlington Sons of Italy Hall. By his own estimation, he is enshrined in seven athletic halls of fame.
“You know, when I took the hockey position at Arlington High, it was just for one year to see how things worked out,’’ added Burns, who coached his last game 13 years ago. “I guess 49 years later they worked out pretty well. I just fell in love with it.’’
“Eddie Burns made Arlington hockey something to aspire to. For many of us, it was the first big goal in our lives. He was larger than life,’’ said Joe Bertagna, a former Arlington High goalie who has served as commissioner of the collegiate Hockey East Association since 1997.
For the dedication ceremony, the 90-year-old Burns will travel from his winter home in Florida to Arlington, where as a youngster he learned to skate with his brothers on the town reservoir just across the street from their home.
Also on hand will be his wife of 60 years, Betty; their four sons, Ed Jr., Carl, Gary, and Brian, all of whom played hockey for their father; and their three daughters, Betty Ann, Mary Beth, and Arline. Joining them will be many members of his extended family, including friends and players from his decades as a hockey mentor. Under the guidance of Burns, Arlington High’s program produced 695 wins (against 167 losses and 62 ties), giving him the second-most wins by a high school coach in the country.
A three-sport athlete at Arlington High in the late 1930s who went on to star on the ice and on the gridiron at Boston College, Burns was behind the bench in 1949 when the Spy Ponders won the New England championship. Add to that accomplishment a combined eight state and Eastern Mass. championships and 28 league titles.
When Burns received the Ace Bailey “Good Guy’’ Award four years ago, the plaque read, “Eddie Burns forged the most remarkable tenure of excellence in the annals of Massachusetts high school hockey. Along the way he positively impacted hundreds of young men that were fortunate enough to learn to play the game from a true hockey legend.’’
Burns also coached football at Arlington High, retiring in 1974 with a 110-64-10 record over 21 seasons. In the 1966-67 season, his hockey and football teams were a combined 28-0.
Burns is quick to share the credit for his successes, and said he would treat his assistants as colleagues. “If they had a better idea, I would go with it,’’ he said.
“I always took notes when scouting other teams and I asked my assistants to do the same. And I read all the books written by the great coaches and learned from them.’’
Burns was not a proponent of the slap shot and wouldn’t let his players use it unless they could hit the open net 50 percent of the time in practice.
He was in favor of rolling out four lines to wear down the opposition’s top skaters, and of letting his defense — in football as well as hockey — dictate the flow of the game.
“Eddie made us come to meetings in a classroom immediately after school to go over such strategy, but he also joked it was ‘to keep us from the dames,’ ’’ recalled Bertagna, who backstopped Arlington to the 1968 Eastern Mass. title and went on to play at Harvard.
“He kept track of how many shots we took and how many of those missed the net. Other coaches mocked some of this, but you know what? We won. A lot.’’
Bertagna said Burns had a repertoire of offbeat pep talks before big games.
“Nervous? There’s 10 million Chinese who don’t even know you’re playing,’’ was one of Bertagna’s favorite Burnsisms.
Dick DeCaprio, who played for Burns, was his longtime assistant, and took over as head coach when he retired, has been a prime mover in the rink dedication.
“Ed understood what made his players tick, he got the best out of them, sometimes with a bit of humor, and he did things that were ahead of his time,’’ said DeCaprio, now the supervisor of officials for Hockey East. “He used to tell me that coaching football was his job but that coaching hockey was his hobby, and he never stopped learning.
“To this day, when he goes to a game with me, he still takes notes and has a few comments about what he just saw.’’
Tourney details The two-day Ed Burns Holiday Tournament will start at 5 p.m. Dec. 28 with Arlington Catholic High taking on Reading Memorial, followed by the arena’s dedication ceremony, and Arlington High facing Billerica High at 8 p.m.
The consolation game is slated for 5:30 p.m. Dec. 29, followed by the championship at 8 p.m.
For information about attending the 4:30 p.m. pretournament reception at the Sons of Italy Hall, 19 Prentiss Road, and the games, go to www.edburnsarena.com/dedication, or contact Joe Bertagna at 978- 376-5494.
Marvin Pave can be reached at 508-820-4223 or marvin.pave@ rcn.com.